Why Should Students Have To Sue To Demand the California Department of Education Address the Literacy Crisis?

We at La Comadre have always debated amongst each other why full literacy of the English language has always been such a struggle to implement in the public schools. Upon further review, we discovered this isn’t a 21st Century issue here in scholastic America. One trip to the library and early U.S. History will tell you this literacy problem arose alongside with the advent of American public education in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1635. This has been a public concern for over 300 years.  

The advocacy law firm, Public Counsel, the largest pro bono public interest law firm in the nation, filed this lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court to demand the California Department of Education address its “literacy crisis.” Public Counsel is claiming that the state has now followed suggestions from its own report on the fundamental right of access to literacy.  

The suit was brought on behalf of California students at La Salle Avenue Elementary School (Los Angeles—the 22nd lowest performing school district in the nation), Van Buren Elementary School (Stockton—the third lowest performing school district in the nation), and the charter school Children of Promise Preparatory Academy (Inglewood), as well as on behalf of their advocates, including former teachers and community organizations CADRE and Fathers & Families of San Joaquin.

The lawsuit demands that the State of California ensure that students receive evidence-based literacy instruction at the elementary and secondary level, a stable, supported, and appropriately trained teaching staff, opportunities for their parents and families to engage in students’ literacy education, and school conditions that promote readiness for learning.

This isn’t the first time that a state has been sued because children cannot read. In 2012, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) filed a class action lawsuit S.S. v. The State of Michigan testing the strength of a Michigan law requiring that all children read on grade level in elementary schools, targeting grades four through seven. Highland Park’s population is over 90 percent African American, and about half of its population lives below the poverty line.

While we appreciate that the lawsuit will shine a light on the literacy problem, it can take years to see any sort of remedy from legal action. The cases themselves can take years to be completed, and districts can be slow to implement legal remedies. We can point to how long it took some localities to comply with desegregation orders resulting from lawsuits during the civil rights era. What we really need is to demand that our state legislators enact bold laws to improve literacy instruction and that those laws have adequate mechanisms to be enforced.

What do you think?

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We are Moms, Tias, Ninas and Play-Tias who love children in our lives and we want to help every child succeed in school. Navigating schools and education—from preschool to college—is hard. We want to help each other with this.

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